Rental Remedies, Small-Space Solution

College Flashback & Dorm Room Decorating Tips

When I saw my neighbor and teenage daughter coming home from shopping, their arms piled high with bedding and electric teakettles and storage bins, I realized that it’s almost time for kids to head off to college.


College, week 1.

In the fall of 1997 I headed to Richmond, VA and moved into a cinder block dorm room with a random girl from Atlanta.  January of freshman year, I arrived back at the dorm with an ancient coffee table in tow. Over Christmas I’d painted it sky blue with some leftover paint, and once in the dorm I popped it under my lofty bed. I was able to put my storage containers under it, but then pull the table into the center of the room when friends were hanging out.

I remember sitting around that table with my friends, sipping wine or espresso . . . which was brewed by Melissa.  If we’d added some pretty floor cushions and tossed down a rug, we would really have been rocking a boho chic vibe.

But where did Melissa like to brew that espresso? On the coffee table under my bed, of course. It was our “coffee station.” Never mind that many nights she was brewing it at 2 am while I lay there trying to sleep, and too quiet to tell her “hey, that’s really loud and obnoxious. . . would you mind not grinding coffee beans at 2 am?”

Despite that quirk, and the fact that my foster pets peed on some of her stuff during senior year, Melissa and I remained fast friends.  Last year (15 years later), she was my maid of honor at my wedding . . . and neither of us is grinding coffee under each other’s beds any more. 🙂

Jane Melissa Wedding1

15 years later . . . with better hair.

Not everyone is that lucky with their freshman year roommate selection . . so I am so thankful for how my situation turned out.

Anyway, there’s nothing more “borrowed” or hard-to-decorate than a college dorm room, so I figure it’s my duty to provide some suggestions for dealing with those cinder block cells.

1. Don’t shop before you plan!

If possible, wait until you arrive to buy storage and organization options – especially if you’re a freshman and have no idea what the room will be like! Imagine if you went out and bought a ton of dorm room accessories and organization / storage systems only to arrive and discover that your new home for the next 9 months doesn’t mesh with the stuff you bought? Talk about a bummer.

2. Arrange Furniture to Create “Stations”

Melissa and I got the best use of space our junior year when we arranged our furniture to create stations – i.e. the beds were in the back of our room, divided from the rest of the space by our bookshelves and desks. This created a kind of entryway nook by the door, and a small “kitchen nook” as well. It worked so well – almost like having 2 rooms instead of.

3.  Coordinate your bedding

A room with coordinated bedding is instantly transformed.  Just take this example of an uncoordinated one:

Undecorated Dorm Room

Source unknown. Via Pinterest.

Then look how much more exciting this red and teal version is, with the coordinated bedding, window treatments, and headboards:

Red Teal Coordinated Dorm Room

Via My House My Home

4.  Dress up the Windows

Is there any decor uglier than dorm windows and blinds?  Maybe not.  Use a tension rod to hang some sweet floor-to-ceiling drapes over those windows, or use Command hooks to hold a curtain rod if a tension rod won’t work.

5.  Create a Faux Headboard

I didn’t do this, but thinking back it could have made such an impact on the room.  Hang a few yards of fabric behind your bed using push pins. Or, if you’re dealing with cinder block walls (like I did!) sew one side of a command adhesive Velcro strip to the back of the fabric and stick the other side on the wall.

6. Desk

If you have a hideous, old wooden desk like I did, you could cut a pretty piece of fabric to fit on the top, then cover it with a piece of plexiglass in the exact same size as the top.  Jen at IHeart Organizing did this and it transformed her desktop:

Via IHeart Organizing

Via IHeart Organizing

Too much work? How about covering it with some removable contact paper in a pretty pattern?

7. Under Bed Storage – Make it Pretty

You’ve got to make good use of your under bed storage space. Choose clear plastic rolling bins, plastic stacking drawers, wicker baskets, suitcases, you name it – the point is, max out that space. But keep it organized!

You’ve got storage, now what?  Dress up the traditional plastic rolling bins or drawers by adding pretty contact paper to the fronts.  Or consider treating yourself to a few of these Rump Roosts from Bungalow.  They’re sturdy enough to sit on!

Scout by Bungalow Rump Roost | The Borrowed Abode

Via BungalowCo

8. Bath Stuff
Finally, since your bath towels will most likely be visible from the rest of the dorm room, why not buy some in colors that coordinate with your bedding and other décor? This will only enhance the cohesive, happy look of the room.

If you or someone you know has created an awesome dorm room, I’d love to see it!  In the mean time, for more dorm room decorating ideas, check out my board on Pinterest.

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  • Reply Arian at 9:56 am

    I was grateful for a wonderful roomate too – same one for all 4 years. Also grateful that my quilter mom made a coordinating quilt for my roomate that brought our style together some after that first year. I have to say that your first picture totally brought me back to my school, Uof R in Richmond, VA too. Thanks for stirring up happy memories. :o)

    • Reply Jane at 10:29 am

      Hey Arian! That’s awesome about the quilts. Small world – I went to U of R too!

      • Reply Arian at 10:29 am

        I thought you might have because the window & layout of your freshman dorm room looked exactly like mine (Lora Robbins?). But dorm rooms often look alike so I wasn’t sure. :o)

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